When many people look at the Pope Villa, they see a problem: a historically significant structure worthy of preservation but suffering the ravages of time and fire.
When the Lexington Art League and members of the artist collective Expanded Draught look at it, they see a canvas.
"The first day we walked through, the five of us, we were just reacting to the space and what would have the most impact in that room in a way that spoke to what we researched and grabbed on to about Latrobe and the history of the house," says Tyler Mackie, one of the United States artists in the American-Irish collective.
Pope Villa was built by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, the architect of the United States Capitol building, in 1810-11 for U.S. Sen. John Pope and his wife, Eliza. According to the Bluegrass Trust for Historic Preservation, "the Pope Villa is Latrobe's best surviving domestic design. Its plan is unique in American residential architecture: a perfect square, with a domed, circular rotunda in the center of the second story."
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But time has not been good to the home, as is immediately apparent walking through the door and seeing peeling paint, gaps in the ceiling and evidence of a 1987 fire.
It sits on narrow Grosvenor Avenue, just blocks from the University of Kentucky, among houses used for a mix of family homes and student housing. And the Bluegrass Trust says it is important to preserve it.
"Pope Villa is Latrobe's most avant garde residential design," Bluegrass Trust Executive Director Sheila Ferrell says in an Art League news release. "Interior scenery and design are revealed spatially, creating discoveries of unique spaces as you move about the Villa."
Art League Executive Director Stephanie Harris says the exhibit was an opportunity to use art to raise awareness of the home that can easily get lost in the expanding maze of Lexington homes and buildings.
"Harnessing contemporary art's ability to inspire and spark the imagination is one of the most innovative and effective ways to engage the public in a meaningful dialogue about important community issues," Harris said in the Art League release.
In Expanded Draught, an international artist collective that counts 23 members — 10 of whom came to Lexington — the Art League found a group that dives into the histories of the spaces it works in.
"We planned this for about a year in a long Google Doc, chain, monster," says Expanded Draught artist Kit French. "Everyone did their own research," adds Allison Regan, another member of the group.
Their aim is to arrive at a cohesive idea of a display that will comment on and tell the story of the house through the various talents of the artists.
The group started in Ireland and then came to the United States as members came here to study.
"There's the illusion of the artist on an island painting pictures," French says, describing the idea of the solitary artist. "We said, let's mix it together and see what we can create."
Regan says, "It's more of an immersive experience seeing what we can create in a space as opposed to being in a gallery and putting something on a wall."
The Pope Villa exhibit, if the walls could talk, will include sculpture, sound installation, collage, painting, fabric art, video installation and other mediums that viewers will experience walking a set path through the house. Open Friday through Oct. 18, it will be the first of several exhibits in the Art League's Interstruct series that will feature art installations in non-art spaces including the Distillery District and the North Limestone neighborhood around the Art League's home base in the Loudoun House.